Painting for Preservation: On-Site Art Making at Historic Places

Painting for Preservation (P4P) came to develop organically and collaboratively, bringing two of Buffalo”s greatest community assets together: art and preservation. The group started in March 2011 and through September held nine gatherings of artists and preservationists to artistically document and creatively discuss historic places throughout Buffalo. For artists working in the urban environment, it is a place to work alongside colleagues and friends. For preservationists, it is a whole new perspective and level of appreciation of historic architecture.The group is inclusive and eclectic, and welcomes community participation.

Founder, Sara M. Zak, at the first ever Art-In at the Old Blacksmith Shop in Buffalo’s Cobblestone District.

The movement was founded by Sara M. Zak, fine artist regularly working with distressed and difficult environments, among them empty corner stores, abandoned gas stations, and bird’s-eye perspectives of entire neighborhoods wrecked by disinterest and disinvestment. Zak shared her vision and it soon developed into a group of two, sometimes five, hardcore organizers, hosting regular events. With the help of existing groups, Preservation-Ready Sites and the Niagara Frontier Plein-Air Painters, the goals developed to include:

  • Raise awareness of at-risk, distressed and under-utilized locations and their neighborhoods
  • Create a record of historically rich locations through art
  • Create a community of artists invested in the urban landscape
  • Bring exposure and provide assistance to artists interested in documenting at-risk historic neighborhoods while also collaborating with members of those same neighborhoods
  • Involve communities in sharing their stories of local historic architecture and their neighborhoods

What are you doing? It’s an Art-In; like a Sit-In!

Painting for Preservation’s message was particularly well-received at Lyth Cottage, a ca. 1880 masonry cottage on the back lot of a ceramic tycoons property, as it was recently purchased by an enthusiastic young citizen as a single-family home through Buffalo’s Homesteading program. P4P also worked with the welcoming community of the Saint Adalbert Basilica Parish, where artists joined the parish in their campaign against the Buffalo Catholic Diocese that ordered the closing of the remarkably well-preserved and solvent parish. It has unfortunately been closed, but the photographs and artwork of that Sunday morning exist as a reminder of the building.

The most visible and controversial P4P location was St. Mary’s on the Hill, a ca. 1897 church and adjacent guild house, just blocks from Niagara River and Olmsted’s Front Park. The church was vacated in 1993, neglected, and then unnecessarily stripped of its roof, leading to its ultimate demolition the week before and after the Art-In. Many artists included the crane and backhoe in their renderings. True to the group’s mission, many Painting for Preservation participants, particularly photographers, returned over the three-or-so-weeks of demolition to document the diminishing property. These works of art serve as a record of the unnecessary loss of this historic asset.

Upper: Donna Hale paints an ethereal version of the ruins. Photo by Steve Siegel; Lower: Crystal Sanchez (left) and Meagan Baco (right) learned to paint last summer thanks to P4P. Photo by Anne McBride.

More information on the histories and current conditions of all of the sites visited by Painting for Preservation in 2011 is available at the links below. The group is currently developing a list of another nine locations to host Art-Ins this year. They currently include grain elevators, a Civil War Colonel’s house, a firehouse, and a feed store.

  1. Old Blacksmith’s Shop, Cobblestone District, 120 South Park Avenue – Vacant
  2. Harris Hardware, East Ferry Street – In Use
  3. St. Vincent’s Female Orphan Asylum – Rehabilitated as the Health Science Charter School
  4. Vaux Barn, Best Street at Mills Street – Privately Owned, Vacant
  5. Lyth Cottage, Hamlin Park Local Historic District – Restoration in Progress
  6. Buffalo Central Terminal – Rehabilitation in Progress
  7. Fairfield Library, 1659 Amherst Street – Vacant, For Sale by the City of Buffalo
  8. St. Mary’s on the Hill, Niagara Street at Vermont Street – Demolished
  9. Saint Adalbert Basilica – Recently Closed by the Buffalo Diocese

Art + Preservation Show at the Statler Tower

In the whirlwind of excitement that the National Preservation Conference brought to Buffalo in October 2011, Painting for Preservation planned and pushed to have over 100 pieces illustrating Buffalo’s architecture on display during the conference’s Opening Reception at the Statler Towers. The show became known as ART + PRESERVATION and is the first annual show of the works of Painting for Preservation artists and their contemporaries. Attendance at the conference broke a 10-year record, which brought renewed enthusiasm to Buffalo’s restoration and rehabilitation projects and spurred frequent positive media attention for the city’s historic assets. It has many times been said that Buffalo’s architectural heritage is deserving of more local attention, simply because it’s significance is already known nationally, and even internationally.

It was a pleasure to share many of Buffalo’s historic places as they were uniquely illustrated by Painting for Preservation artists. For preservationists, ART + PRESERVATION offered yet another perspective on the beauty of classical architecture in all states of repair and disrepair. The public opening took place during the annual meeting of Preservation Buffalo Niagara, the regional preservation advocacy organization, in November 2011.

Because this preservation movement really is about the art and the act of art-making, please check out the larger portfolios of participating artists, including: Sara M. ZakAmanda Maciuba, Dana Saylor, Michael T. HarmonCasey William Milbrand, and Tim Raymond.

Painting for Preservation is a small piece of the restoration revolution taking place in Buffalo. A great discussion about revitalization strategies and collaborations relevant to all communities takes place at Preservation-Ready Sites on Facebook; join them. Painting for Preservation would like to thank Mark Croce, owner of Statler Towers, as well as the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Buffalo Niagara for their collective hosting of ART + PRESERVATION. A special thanks  goes to “See Hear Feel Touch Learn – Experience Art,” Hallways Contemporary Arts Center, CEPA Gallery, and John Shotwell for contributing funds, resources and expertise.

Meagan Baco of HISTPRES, is P4P co-organizer and researcher, and an amateur Fauvist lovingly challenged and jealous of the truly talented artists of Painting for Preservation. For more information or to start a P4P chapter in your area, email

© HISTPRES, LCC + Painting for Preservation, 2012.

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